Tom Salonek, frustrated in his first job as an IT professional at the former West Publishing, started the software and training firm Intertech in his house in 1991. Guided by core values he learned working on his family’s dairy farm, he has tried to build the company for which he would like to work. With recruiting at the forefront of the company’s challenges, he’s counting on that approach to help ensure a supply of top IT talent. Another selling point: a workplace that values and rewards engaged employees.
Q: What does Intertech do, and who are your clients?
A: Software application development and consulting, and IT training. Intertech designs and develops software solutions that power Fortune 500 businesses, midsized companies and government agencies. Our clients include NASA, Medtronic, Microsoft and the state of Minnesota. We employ 75 and are on track for $14 million in revenues this year.
Q: How is Intertech different from its competitors?
A: There is no one “secret ingredient” that makes Intertech different from other IT consulting firms. Our competitive difference is more the “gestalt” of what we do and how we do it. Intertech leadership is committed to hiring experienced and outstanding technology professionals, attracting high-quality work opportunities that keep them engaged, managing the firm’s finances conservatively and creative philanthropic involvement.
Q: What’s the secret to success?
I started my company in one of the bedrooms in a three-bedroom rambler in Eagan. I had a determination to create a business where clients received outstanding service and employees loved working. At first, I would just about take any job. But we never wanted to be a ‘‘body shop” and have turned down mundane assignments to ensure that our consultants stay on the leading edge of technology. I also wanted my business to be driven by core values, which I learned working on my family’s dairy farm. My new book, “The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership,” describes these values: common-sense leadership strategies and a commitment to communication and transparency.
Q: You’ve been recognized as a good place to work. Why, and why is it smart business?
A: There were a few defining moments in my first job [at the former West Publishing]. I told my boss once what I thought we needed to do with a security application. He just took my idea [and took credit for it with management]. I enrolled in the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, but the company wouldn’t [reimburse for tuition because I was not considered management material].
Intertech has been honored to receive more than 50 awards for growth and being a great place to work. The awards are recognition of our efforts to create a culture of engagement. Engaged employees give extra effort in their jobs … they are more productive, absent less. … We go over the finances every quarter. We have learning goals for each employee. We lift each other up. This leads to happier clients and increased profitability.
Q: What has been the biggest surprise for you during the past 25 years as a business owner?
A: Many years ago, I read the “The E-Myth” by Michael Gerber. He commented that the “purpose of a business is to give life, not take it.” At that time, he could have been describing me. I set about trying to make Intertech a place that could be described as “giving life” … for everyone who works here. I have been happily surprised that by using smart, consistent systems, hiring outstanding people and staying true to core values … being engaged with this company is a freeing rather than consuming experience. The business used to control my life. Now I work from home on Tuesdays and Thursdays [and see more of] my two kids.
Q: What is your biggest business challenge?
A: In the world of IT consulting, there’s rarely equilibrium. In tight labor markets, like now, we’re focused on recruiting. Because we hire only one of every 20 applicants, it takes a lot to make a hire. The opposite is true when there’s a recession or economic headwinds. Our focus shifts from recruiting to sales and keeping our teams busy.
Q: Is the Twin Cities a growing tech hub and good place to do business? And what advice do you have, if any, for making it better?
A: The Twin Cities is a growing technology center. The large number of Fortune 500 companies, med-tech companies, government agencies and diverse small businesses all provide great opportunities for people with IT talent. Our vaunted quality of life is a strong draw: good schools, a relatively unspoiled natural environment, sophisticated arts and literary scene, world-class sports teams and even our growing local breweries … .
At the risk of sounding like a typically cranky business person, I have concerns about our excessively high tax rates. As a small-business owner, structured as an “S Corporation,” all the earnings flow to the personal taxes of the owner. This, along with the [high] federal tax rate, means about 50 cents of every dollar of profit is spent on taxes. That money cannot be spent on … R & D, hiring more employees and philanthropy.
Q: How do you unplug from work?
A: Playing with my 5-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. Becoming a parent relatively late in life allows me to relive my childhood. While milking cows at 5 a.m. was character-building … I’m having more fun this time around.